The Beggar Laddie


Jon says,“Simon (“admin”) with his Properganda hat on was kind enough to ask me to review a few of the recent Topic re-releases. The double Ewan MaColl CD was a bit of an epic but there’s some great stuff on it. This one struck me particularly. I love the verse where she’s tired and hungry and starts to have second thoughts – a little flourish of realism amongst the romance.”

True enough I did and Jon did me proud with some valuable insight from the folk singer’s perspective, bringing the knowledge that I lack. Two things occur. The first is that I still know nowhere near enough about Ewan MacColl, although without him it’s questionable where folk music, let alone this project, would be today. The second is how few times, if at all, I’ve referred to MacColl’s comments on songs, especially when compared with Bert Lloyd whose sleeve notes seem by contrast to have been constantly chirruping away. It made me wonder whether, on reflection, having a stack of Ewan’s Topic CDs as a first point of reference wouldn’t have served me well with this project. But then I note that even the collection Jon kindly reviewed for me doesn’t have his notes anyway, as he’s constantly referred to in the third person and it’s a bit late for that anyhow. Much of the double CD is plucked from an eight LP set of Child Ballads, as conceived by Kenneth Goldstein for Riverside Records, a label that these days is probably celebrated for its jazz output almost exclusively. MacColl and A.L. Lloyd shared the project and received equal billing, but Ewan sings almost two to every one that Bert does. OK! I’m threatening to tie myself in knots of Ewan vs Bert, which wasn’t the intention and I haven’t even got to the song yet. So, you can read the liner notes from the CD at Mainly Norfolk . It’s also interesting to find out that MacColl’s knowledge of the Child ballads came largely from his parents, family and work colleagues before the traditional singers that came into contact with the revival. He filled in gaps by referring to printed texts, notably Greig and Keith’s Last Leaves Of Traditional Ballads And Ballad Aires. Most are to some extent collations and therefore probably benefit from his dramatic skills in honing the final result. Check here for the Child variants and fragments. As you’ll see from the notes to Ewans version, this is apparently related to ballad #279, but as that only seems to appear in Scottish dialect, I’m struggling to understand some of it. It’s described as more ribald and seems to involve the beggar taking the young lassie to his bed. It’s what happens after the inevitable consequence of that, which seems to involve cats or dogs or something that I’m struggling with. Am I just being dense again? Perhaps someone could dip in here and help me out with a translation.



39 Responses to “The Beggar Laddie”

  1. Jane Ramsden says:

    I really liked this strange song, and I think I can shed some light on what I think the meaning of the Scottish dialect version is, Skyman, as many words are akin to Yorkshire dialect and German. The Scottish language is not the Irish Gaelic, of course, and is more Germanic. You see evidence of this in the words ‘dother’ or ‘dochter’ for daughter (German ‘Tochter’), ‘carl’ or ‘carle’ after German ‘Kerl’ meaning ‘fellow’ and she ‘thrue them our the wan’ meaning she through them against the wall (German for wall is ‘Wand’).

    There are also words in there I recognise from Yorkshire dialect (though not used all over Yorkshire, no doubt, since a varied language!) such as ‘siler’, which is money (silver) and ‘mukell’ for ‘much’ as in ‘many a mickle makes a muckle.’

    Basically, the Scottish version starts with mention of a wife with 3 daughters and the beggar would be a beggar for any of the three. He goes about the town begging, dressed in his ‘clouty cloak’ – a drab article (maybe from ‘cloudy’? though in Yorkshire ‘clout’ is just an article of clothing ‘ne’er cast a clout ’til May is out!’) – and he happens upon the wife’s door asking for somewhere to stay. He appears to call her dame instead of mistress, which she doesn’t like, but he says if you want manners, you’ll give me quarters. A bit hoity-toity, our beggar!

    Anyway, she invites him to come before the fire and sing for his supper. Obviously when he takes his ‘clouty cloak’ off, he’s a bit of alright, especially to our fair maiden’s eyes, who asks what’s he going to eat afore he lays down to sleep? The good wife says ‘lang kell’ and ‘puss pay’ which is, I believe, a sort of chopped cabbage dish from a now defunct variety of long-leaved kale, I suppose, and ‘puss pay’ is hare pie, methinks. Defo not moggie pie! How very dare ye!

    But our hoity-toity beggar doesn’t want that. He wants a capon, 2 or 3 bottles of wine and some beer, to which the good wife says, ‘Oh, and have you any money to pay for this then?’ ‘No,’ he says, ‘not for a long time.’ Being hoity-toity, he won’t sleep in the barn or cattle-shed either, but only behind the house door or near the fire. The maiden happens upon him, naked as a jay bird (not even a sock) when she goes to bar the door and he seizes his opportunity – and hers – with nary a word. When he’s had his evil way, then he speaks and makes a not-so-nice jest about if there were any stray dogs about town, what would she do for them?

    At this point, she realises her error of judgement, that he is the overnighting beggar and not a gentleman (certainly not that!) like the Laird of Brody. She says Devil take my maidenhead along with my milk pails and throws them against the wall. Then they seem to have a bit of a reconciliation with wine and kisses, he blows his horn and 24 knights appear… as they do… so he must be a laird after all! But still no gentleman, ‘cos he gives her 3 guineas and 2400 marks to pay the ‘nires fees’ (wet nurse or midwife’s fee, if there’s a baby) saying if she had been a good woman, as he’d thought she was, he would have married her and made her lady of 8 or 9 castles. Guess she’s lucky he didn’t cut her nips off. Still, she did only go with him ‘cos she thought he was somebody.

    Well, that’s my take on the story, Skyman. I think there is a website for all worms Scottish by the bard, called Rabbie-net – I jest not! – but I can’t find it at the moment.

  2. Simon says:

    Absolutely brilliant! Thanks Jane. I started trying to pick my way through it, but impatience simply got the better of me. I love the moral ambiguity of the tale as you’ve explained it. Neither of the protagonists come up smelling of roses.

  3. christine says:

    Referring to Ewan McColl learning Child ballads from his parents, it is important to remember that this is how all traditional songs /stories were passed on when there was no access to the written word in books or today’s internet. The oral tradition still operates & is a far more durable method than the current ‘world at ones’ fingertips’ shared illusion.

  4. Jane Ramsden says:

    Can’t agree with Christine on this one, and feel moved to say so. The oral tradition is not durable in today’s world of mainly smaller, mobile, disparate families where young people are attracted by all manner of interests, not always traditional by far. Add to that, ethnically-mixed communities, where finding a common voice has to be worked at, where there is no shared tradition or sufficient common daily language, let alone understanding of older forms of English, Irish, Scots etc., and I begin to see why John’s project is so vital. One can’t turn the clock back and I, for one, applaud the greater technical knowledge of younger people than me and their frequently broader outlook and varied cross-cultural tastes. Alternatively, I mourn the loss of older trades, crafts & dialects as well as cohesive communities able to continue cultural life across the British Isles.

    The world at one’s fingertips via the internet is not an illusion. The internet is now more durable & influential than oral tradition in its vaster reach. The important thing is how we use and marry up the two. And the pooled knowledge and understanding we can get from the internet, like Mainly Norfolk and Mudcat, is priceless. You’d be walking this land a lifetime to gain that kind of shared knowledge and experience!

  5. Diana says:

    An interesting tale with a happy ending, (how we women like our happy endings). Found Jane’s information rivetting, and discovering that such a mixture of different cultures that go to make up all these folk songs.

  6. Muzza(NW Surrey, UK) says:

    @Christine….ooer me deario…… definitely touched a Janey nerve there and triggered the Yorkshire gal’s dreaded battle call:-
    Oh, wind me up and set me off like a clockwork rabbit!
    Wow… much info to take in from the gospel and letter to the Old Folkers according to Jane…………….I thought it was going to get a bit racy in paragraph 4 of Chapter one i.e. ‘Long leaved kale and puss-pay’…(again-just me then!)
    It would be nice/different if ….when he disclosed himself as a wealthy knight…she had said..”Drat..roast me over a fire and set fire to me (ref Diana’s dad)..I want none of this” and disappeared into the night to look for another beggar.
    Ref Christine/Jane……….yes…….I can’t read music and have to learn a tune by ear….how much better it would be if I could read music and could, therefore, browse through loads of song books and play the tunes. So it must be written down (as Jane says)
    Ref yesterdays chat about the new ‘Folk songs for Penguins’..I have a paperback from an 50s printrun and, as I have said before… has no musical notation and is to me…a book of poems….I trust that the new one has music

  7. Diana says:

    @ Muzza: Jane does have a way with words – re: the wind up rabbit but you have misquoted dad – it is “damn, blast, roast and set fire to it” – not quite as drastic as your expression setting fire to oneself. I cannot read music either but used to be able (when I had a piano as a child (way back in the middle ages) to pick out a tune by ear. Mind you it didn’t do my head any good and my ear was prone to hit the wrong key. That is supposed to be a funny! Still you have achieved a lot to be able to play for the Morris dancers.

  8. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Diana: Thank you for the compliment about the way with words. I wanted to convey the feel of Jon’s song here as I felt I understood it to be. There’s humour and a mix of messages in there, which could be lost to today’s listeners if the language is not understood, which is not just a matter of straight translation, of course. And I still stand by most of what I replied to Christine last year. You might understand a song like this if you were living in a continuous cloistered community where such was handed down and joyfully received but, for most of us, that isn’t the case (& could even indicate a certain insularity if it was.) Yet it’s a privilege in a way, if you are lucky enough to have such a stable & cultural community. Today’s world has many examples of a less than stable environment for many people, especially young people, but I will not rant further on the subject!

    (And I knew Muzza had got your father’s favorite saying wrong somehow, so thanks for the clarification, as I was about to trawl back!)

    @ Muzza: Well, who’s to say in the original singing, how suggestive-a-digestive ‘long-leaved kale & pussy pay’ might have been? Probably not, but in today’s world, where words have new and different meanings, today’s singers could make it as suggestive as they wished, for the supposed beggar is indeed a cheeky fellow!

    Ref, not reading music, I played the descant recorder at school and sung in the choir. Our music teacher did teach us the basics of reading music. Unlike Diana on the old ‘johanna,’ I could never play a tune by ear, or even hear a new tune on paper in my head from knowing the notes, but I could play it straight off from the annotated sheet, if that counts as reading music. Not sure I could do it now so well. Having said that, I have purchased a book on reading music, though I’m sure you can find the same on t’internetty. I just haven’t got round to studying it yet. Another project on my ‘to do’ list, along with my family tree, but AFSAD has (happily) taken up a fair amount of my research time over 2 years and I do have lots of running around to do for animals and humans. I see no reason why you couldn’t learn though, Muzza.

    I still remember mnemonics like Battle Ends and Down Goes Charles Father (for BEADGCF, the order of flats in music)… tho’ a man with one sock might prefer ‘Blanket Exploded and Dad Got Cold Feet…’ HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    And I remember that, reversed, it is the mnemonic for FCGDAEB, the order of sharps: ‘Father Charles Goes Down and Ends Battle.’

    However, there are other non-reversible mnemonics for the same:

    Father Christmas Gave Dad An Electric Blanket (no doubt ‘cos his other exploded and he’d only got one sock…)

    My favourites are of course:

    Fat Cats Go Dancing And Eat Bologna, Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Bananas or Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Bats!

    Or the more saucy, folky (just-you-then, Muzza) version might be:

    Faulty Condom Gave Doreen An Easy Baby

    With the American version being:

    Foxy Cheerleaders Get Dates After Every Ball Game (no puns, please!)

    The only problem with all that is I am not sure I fully remember what the mnemonics are exactly mnemonics for, beyond sharps and flats! ‘Bear’ with me, I’ll read it up later! Lol!

  9. Jane Ramsden says:

    Ref: Foxy Cheerleaders Get Dates After Every Ball Game – how did that G# get in there? Should read Ballgame, I presume!

  10. Diana says:

    @Jane: Love your mnemonics – the only one I can recall is “Richard of York gained battles in vain” – don’t suppose I need to tell you what that represents. It is the history ones which are not mnemonics that stick in my brain “In fourteen hundred and ninety two Columbus sailed the ocean blue” and “The battle of Marston Moor took place in sixteen forty four” ridiculous really what one remembers isn’t it? 😀

  11. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Diana: Now, I did not know your history mnemonics, nor the one for the colours of the rainbow, so had to look it up. I rather like your more favourable take on Richard of York ‘gaining battles,’ even tho’ in vain. Wiki has this to say:

    “In Britain the most common is ‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain.’ The mnemonic is said to refer to the defeat and death of Richard, Duke of York at the Battle of Wakefield. In order to avoid reference to this defeat, people from Yorkshire developed the alternative ‘Rowntrees Of York Gave Best In Value.’ Alternatively, the biblically inspired ‘Read Out Your Good Book In Verse,’ or the more anarchic ‘Rinse Out Your Granny’s Boots In Vinegar’ may be used.” (Granny fares worse with ‘Run Over Your Granny Because It’s Violent!’)

    Of course, the easiest way to remember is by the name Roy G. Biv, but I suspect that is American more than British (and apparently that’s an acronym. Many mnemonics take the form of acronyms. To recall the spelling of the word ‘mnemonic,’ for example, you could memorise ‘Monkey Nut Eating Means Old Nutshells In Carpet!’

    (PS Roy G. Bivolo is the name of the supervillain Rainbow Raider, an enemy of the Flash (in comics) who uses spectral light as his powers. Not a lot of people know that! Wiki him here:

    Even less people know that ‘piphilology’ is the practice dedicated to creating mnemonics for pi! An example of such a mnemonic for the first 15 digits of the mathematical constant (3.14159265358979) is “Now I need a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics”. The numeric sequence is encoded in the number of letters in each word in the sentence.

    Eee, by gum! This site should be known as AFSAD, an acronym for A Factual Story A Day!

  12. Muzza(NW Surrey, UK) says:

    @Jane…..Cor Bimey Guvnor….me poor old brain is bustin’! the problem with me would be-‘how to remember the mnemonic, and I would have to invent a mnemonic to remember the mnemonic…….and fleas have lesser fleas etc. etc’
    I do have a similar, quirky method of remembering morris tunes:-
    i.e to remember how ‘THe Poacher’ starts, I make a noise like an old car trying to start with a flat battery…sounds weird but it works…we only need the first few notes and the tune kicks in.
    I’ll have to put it on Youtube….along with how to use elastic bands to fix broken melodeon springs to keep playing….mine looks like a rubber plantation under the keyboard!- What will I do when the postman stops dropping bands in the street.

    @Jane 5:47pm…..As for that Doreen…it’s a lie I tell you!(can she return my sock)
    AND I never knew that York lost the battle till you gals started mnemoniking it!
    as for AFSAaD……..all folk songs appreciated and dissected (AFSAaDTD-to death)

  13. Diana says:

    @Jane: I rather like your “Rowntrees of York” mnemonic and I obviously made a mistake with gained instead of gave, but what the hell! It works for me. 😳

    Muzza it appears that these postmen drop rubber bands all over the country – the ones around here are red. What colour are yours?

  14. Jane Ramsden says:

    Aha, Muzza: You have hit upon another form of mnemonic, ‘cos they are not all written down or wordy. They can be visual, aural or limbic!

    @ Diana: Not sure your ‘gained’ is so much a mistake as a difference to the same method of recall and battle outcome! I liked the Rowntree’s mnemonic too, but I am (of course) a chocoholic. I went round their factory in York as a kid. I suspect many did in the locality.

  15. Jane Ramsden says:

    PS Our bands are red, & what a waste! I keep picking them up because animals mistake them for edibles, and I think it’s dangerous.

  16. Diana says:

    You and me both! I find them useful around the house when they are cleaned – for putting round opened veggie packets in the freezer. Like you say though what a waste!

  17. Muzza (NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Being a vegetarian I haven’t eaten a Pork3.14159265358979 since 1967!

  18. Muzza (NW Surrey-UK) says:

    @Jane-mnemonic,- “They can be visual, aural or limbic!”………..
    Is that as in “Limbic Opek is a jokey politician?”

  19. Guess who? says:

    ha ha ha he he he her her her 😀

  20. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: The limbic system plays its role in the formation of memory by integrating emotional states with stored memories of physical sensations…

    … so I suppose Lembit Opek will have no problem remembering his recent 2-minute round in the wrestling ring, after which he had to be stretchered off! (But he has a new and lovely 21-year-old girlfriend to help him forget!)

    I understand he has also been bitten by a snake at some time in his life… shades of the Wicked Serpent on Springfield Mountain?… tho’ I don’t think his former fiancée was called a Cheeky Girl for that! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  21. Diana says:

    I fail to see the attraction unless it is the money. When you look at some of the men with their gorgeous looking women you have to wonder. Am I being a little hostile here? I would not be seen dead with some of the persons I am thinking of.

  22. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Diana: It takes different strokes to rule the world! Ref Lembit, he is varously described as a kind, caring and considerate follow. There’s a lot to be said for that.

  23. Diana says:

    @ Jane: you are probably right and it is me being judgmental.

  24. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Diana: I mostly stick to cats… hahahahahahahaha!

  25. Diana says:

    @Jane: Very wise they don’t let you down do they?

  26. Old frog says:

    @Jane……….You have given me a project…….
    I will make it my life’s work to invent something akin to’Teflon’
    that will cure you of your confessed affliction of sticking to cats.
    (you hinted that you stick to other things….but we’ll start with just cats)
    It is tragic that you are facing this alone and by golly we’ll drink and be jolly and drown melancoly and beat this together!

  27. Muzza(NW-Surrey, UK) says:

    @OldFrog……phew…back to handsome prince just as the tide was flowing

  28. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: Sticking to cats may have something to do with how be-witching I am of a nightime. At least I have mastered my ursine shapeshifting. You really must learn how to control your inner frog… it is running away with you…

    … still, I was always partial to Kermit…

  29. Muzza(NW-Surrey, UK) says:

    @Jane..always partial to kermit what?…….arson/adultery/perjury…..we need to know

    (Sorry Reynard…..I’m having an attack of the silly b*****s so I hope you don’t read this!)

  30. Diana says:

    What next Muzza – I thought you spoke english or at least could spell and why on earth was an apology needed? If we ever laid hands on you, do you think we (Jane and I) could get away with murder. We are clever enough to come up with some foolproof plan.

  31. Jane Ramsden says:

    If one Kermit’s murder whilst he is in froggy format, I’m sure it could go undetecTed, or carry very little penalty if it was. However, I may not be a veggie, but I could not kill a froggy-went-awooing!

  32. Diana says:

    @Jane: Hey Ho said Anthony Roly another well known frog. You are sooo right it would surely go undetected if he was in froggy mode but otherwise I don’t think we could do such a dirty deed, after all we would miss him would we not? Mind you he can be so annoying sometimes with all his aliases so perhaps not.

  33. Muzza(NW-Surrey, UK) says:

    Cor blimey matron…….no wonder folk singers grow up to write such murderous songs ….the trend is set whilst children!….lots of nice cabbage & spinach though.umm!

  34. Diana says:

    @ Muzza: I am pleased I remembered the frog’s name correctly I just dredged it up from one of my brain cells, so thanks for the link – pleased to be able to recall the tune as well.

  35. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey UK) says:

    Re reading all this lot….what were we like-I ask yer!
    I even smiled at my own comment:-
    “Being a vegetarian I haven’t eaten a Pork3.14159265358979 since 1967!”
    Ok,Ok, just me then!

  36. old Muzza (NW Surrey) says:

    Oh……..I get it….. a pork ‘Pi’

  37. Old Muzza (NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Yep….a pork Pi…..(well I thought it was clever!).surprised that our lovely, shape shifting, young. cat botherer didn’t rise to that one!….it comes to something when one has to explain one’s old jokes to one’s self……..

  38. Jane (Maryland) says:

    Muzza, I got your “pork 3.14159…” joke, and I’m sure Jane R. was just too busy bothering cats to comment.
    On this side of the pond (okay, in my neighborhood) the postman doesn’t drop rubber bands in the street. We only see the bands when we pick up our mail after it’s been held when we go on vacation. And ours are just a drab tan.

  39. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Jane ,Jane Maryland Jane….good to know that you are still out there.
    I find it very nostalgic reading through the mad comments that our little group used to make.
    Yup…in my neck of the woods (S.E.England) ….our bands are bland and brown, same as yours!

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